Brewer of the Week: Karl Zink
Name: Karl Zink
Hometown: Anderson, IN
Brewing Since: January 2009
AHA Member Since: January 2012
I'm the youngest of 10 kids and was first introduced to homebrewing at a young age by one of my older brothers. I remember the malt smell from the extract and steeping grains filling the house. The highlight for me was standing on a stool while adding the steeping grains to the pot and then later helping cap the bottled beer. At this day and age, I wish I still had the same drive for bottling an entire batch of beer. The convenience of kegging and various beer guns is the way to go!
Later on, my brother grew out of homebrewing as marriage and raising kids took priority. When I moved to Florida to be with my now wife, I sold my 55 gallon fish tank to a co-worker and proceeded to purchase my first carboy and stainless steel boiling pot. Always fascinated by making consistent and better beer, I quickly moved into all-grain brewing and started plans for my HERMS. My fascination continues today and it seems the more I know the less I know about this fine art of brewing.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
I remember cleaning my carboy with Star San and filling it with cool wort. The bubbles left from the Star San were peaking up the neck of the carboy. I attempted to pitch my liquid yeast. However, the bubbles seemed to carry out much of the yeast along side of the carboy. Needless to say, I had to pitch some dry yeast to make up for what I lost.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
It's always tough to narrow down a style. Living in Florida now, I love hugging a pint of oatmeal or imperial stout when the first cold front appears. It provides me memories of fall back in Indiana and gives a great break from the pale ales and lagers of summer.
What was the first beer you ever brewed? How did it turn out?
Like many people, I did your basic pale ale. It came out way to sweet and almost syrup-like from lack of fermentable sugars, poor pitching and high fermentation temps. It's funny what you learn in a few years.
What is your favorite beer recipe?
My current favorite recipe is a hoppy red. The recipe is based upon a few of my favorite recipes blended together. Your typical 2-row is the base malt with crystal 40L, crystal 120L and pale chocolate as a supporting cast. I use Magnum as the bittering hops and Citra at 15 and flameout. I use about a 1:1 ratio of OG to IBU. OG is around 1.065 and keeps it toward the dry side. I feel it is very balanced and provides a malt backbone with a nice hop presence without being overpowering.
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier, etc?
I must say that a beer gun for bottle filling and a nice big hop screen has made my life much easier.
Describe your brew system:
My system is a HERMS (Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System). It has vertically adjustable banjo burners on a custom welded frame.
I have a furnace solenoid valve controlling the gas to the HLT based upon the temperature of the beer leaving the mash tun and into the copper cool inside the HLT. Another probe monitors the temperature of the wort returning into the mash tun. I typically have it set on "manual" as I'm a control freak when it comes to process and monitoring temperature control.
I fly sparge into the boil kettle and use a hop stopper to help keep pellet hops out of my counterflow wort chiller. Since the ground water temperature is so high in Florida, I fill my HLT with ice water to supply the water side of the chiller. The water output on the counterflow chiller is returned to the mash tun to use for cleaning purposes.
How frequently do you brew?
I probably brew on average every three weeks. Unfortunately, making a living gets in my way to support my habit. Luckily, I have a loving wife that backs me as long as I provide her a coffee or chocolate stout from time to time.
What is your favorite malt? Why?
I'm currently a fan of Maris Otter as a base grain. I love the nuttiness and flavor it provides for English-style beers. I also like adding pale chocolate to some of my beers for its mild chocolate and coffee type flavor.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
For summer IPAs here in Florida, I'm loving Citra. The tropical notes it provides for dry hopping is perfect for the south Florida atmosphere. It is like a mai tai.
If you could serve your homebrew to someone famous, who would it be and what would you give her/him?
That is a tough call. I think it would either be Shane MacGowan from The Pogues or Henry Rollins. Shane is a complete drunk, but seems to have a brilliantly poetic mind. I would have to serve him a proper pint of a dry Irish stout, and I think he could entertain me for hours. Henry Rollins is someone I admire from his punk bands, to his spoken word, even for his acting. He might not be the best actor, but he is still Henry Rollins. I would love to serve him a rye IPA, but he probably doesn't drink.
What are some of your favorite commercial breweries and pubs?
Picking a favorite beer/brewery is like trying to pick your favorite child, you just can't do it. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is what got me into craft beer. I love what they've done to keep the brewery "green" since its inception. Bell's is at the top of my list as far as breweries are concerned, and their Two Hearted is among my staple beers. I'm currently hooked on their Third Coast Old Ale at the moment as well. Oskar Blues is another great brewery. Craft beer in cans is a great idea, especially when glass isn't permitted at the local beach. Their G'Knight Imperial Red is at the top of my list. I also have a spot for my birth-state breweries from Indiana: Three Floyds, Sun King, and Upland among others. Finally, there are local breweries such as Tequesta Brewing Co. and Cigar City that I'm fond of. Among my other favorite beers are: Meantime Coffee Porter, Young's Oatmeal Stout, Firestone Walker Walker's Reserve, North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin.
Do you brew alone, with friends or with someone you live with?
I tend to brew alone. I'm usually running back and forth between cleaning and sanitizing and monitoring the brew process. The few times I did have someone over, we tended to have a few too many and hop additions might have been a few minutes off. The beer was drinkable, but my process on brew day became a little more chaotic.
Are you an indoor or outdoor brewer?
I brew outdoors. The weather is perfect most of the year. I also use propane burners that can only be used outside. I tend to get a few odd looks when brewing out front with my HERMS.
What adivce would you give to new/aspiring homebrewers?
I would say as many people said, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). You don't need a complicated rig to make great beer. On the contrary, you can get lost in making a complicated system and forget about the main objective: great beer! The more bells and whistles you have the more that can go wrong. I feel sometimes I went overboard in the complexity of my HERMS.
I would also say develop a routine in which sanitation and consistency is a priority. If you have a consistent way of brewing and have good records, you should be able to diagnose any issues that may arise. This also involves developing your palate. If you can't taste and analyze your beer, how can you improve it.
Though brewing gives us the canvas to produce any beer you can imagine, try a tried-and-true recipe that you are familiar with and like. As you read more about different styles and what makes the baseline of that style, use that knowledge and then throw your twists in. Again, you should do lots and lots of reading. There are many techniques to try and help make your beer that much better. Finally, keep your yeast happy with starters and save those pennies to develop a way to keep consistent fermentation temps.